Big things come in small packages – and your thyroid is no different! This small, but mighty, gland produces hormones that influence essentially every organ in the body. Fortunately, eating the right foods for thyroid health can have an enormous effect on overall health and wellness.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some type of thyroid condition, and unfortunately, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems (1). In fact, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. Being a girl is rough sometimes, amiright?
So, it goes without saying that eating foods for healthy thyroid support is vital to people with AND without current thyroid conditions. This article will review the best foods and supplements for thyroid health.
What does the thyroid do?
The thyroid is a gland in your neck, found just below the Adam’s apple. It has a butterfly shape with the two lobes sitting on either side of your windpipe. In order to understand why these foods and natural supplements for thyroid health are helpful, we first need a basic understanding of what the thyroid does in the body.
The thyroid gland makes two main hormones abbreviated T3 and T4. The balance of these two hormones is really important for overall health, and affects processes such as metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, bone health, and much more. Two other glands, the hypothalamus and the pituitary, are located in the brain and regulate this delicate balance. The hypothalamus produces a hormone called TRH which then tells the pituitary gland to make TSH based on your blood’s level of thyroid hormones (2). Genetics, lifestyle, diet, and environment may disrupt this important balance.
The most common thyroid disorders include (3,4):
- Most common cause: Graves’ disease (autoimmune disease)
- Most common cause: Hashimoto’s (autoimmune disease)
Certain wholesome foods and supplements may help treat thyroid conditions. Even without a diagnosed thyroid condition, eating foods for thyroid health is an important preventative measure for all!
Foods for Healthy Thyroid Support
Your nutrition and lifestyle impact how well your thyroid functions. Here are a few key foods for thyroid health and how they can help whether or not you have a thyroid condition!
We’re nuts for selenium, which is why brazil nuts are one of the best foods for healthy thyroid support. Brazil nuts are one of the highest food sources of selenium. An essential trace element, selenium plays a critical role in thyroid health. In fact, our thyroid gland stores more selenium per gram of tissue than any other organ in the body (5).
Selenium acts as an antioxidant. When producing thyroid hormones, the thyroid gland also produces dangerous free radicals (i.e. toxins) as a byproduct (6). Selenium helps to bind and deactivate these free radicals to prevent them from running rampant and causing damage and inflammation. Selenium is also required for a few enzymes that help regulate the balance of thyroid hormones For example, selenium helps the enzymes needed to convert T4 into its active form, T3. Finally, selenium may reduce thyroid antibodies in people with Hashimoto’s. One study found that supplementing the diet with 200 mcg of selenium (equivalent to about 2 brazil nuts) reduced thyroid antibodies by 40% (7).
Just one brazil nut per day meets over 100% of your daily selenium requirements!
Before you dismiss us as crazy, hear us out 😉. Seaweed is one of the best foods for thyroid health due to its rich iodine content. Iodine is a mineral found naturally in various foods and is also added to some types of table salt. Your body cannot make thyroid hormones without iodine (8).
Iodine levels vary depending on the type of seaweed. One variety, called Kombu kelp, likely contains the highest amount of iodine per serving – up to 2,984 mcg. This is almost 2,000 percent of the recommended daily intake!
Luckily, you don’t have to be a seaweed-eating hippy on the beach to get the benefits of this food (unless that’s your vibe). Many grocery stores are now selling Nori seaweed. These are dried, crunchy seaweed sheets that provide a healthy alternative for your salt cravings! Another common way to incorporate seaweed is to add it to veggie soups or stews.
While we know you probably won’t go hoarding all the seaweed, it’s important to note that some studies show that eating high iodine foods in excess may actually cause harm to the thyroid in certain individuals (mostly those with high antibodies) (9). So, enjoy your seaweed sheets, but don’t go overboard.
Often referred to as nature’s multivitamin, liver is definitely a “superfood” when it comes to foods for healthy thyroid support. Liver is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, many of which are incredibly powerful for thyroid health.
Just 3-ounces of beef liver contains (10):
- Over 1,000% daily needs of vitamin B12.
- Around 30% daily needs of iron.
- Over 10% daily needs of vitamin D.
While vitamin B12 isn’t directly related to thyroid health, it’s a required nutrient and aides in the holistic treatment of thyroid disorders. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in thyroid disorders, affecting nearly 40% of people (11). Deficiency can worsen common thyroid disorder symptoms and negatively affect energy levels. Additionally, the iron in liver can help make thyroid hormones, while the vitamin D amounts may help treat autoimmune thyroid conditions.
If you aren’t jumping for joy at the thought of making liver pate for dinner tonight, don’t worry, there are many other ways to eat liver! You can easily “hide” liver in almost any recipe that uses ground meat – such as meatloaf, burgers, or chili. Start with 3 ounces of liver per recipe, Remember to purchase your liver from trusted sources, ideally from pasture-raised cows or chickens.
Red Bell Peppers
Many thyroid disorders are associated with an increased level of oxidative stress. English, please? Oxidative stress is a state of inflammation, when your body has heightened levels of free radicals (toxins) that it cannot effectively detoxify or deactivate. Any foods for thyroid health with higher levels of antioxidants to fight off oxidative stress are extremely helpful.
Vitamin C is one of the most well-known antioxidants. Surprisingly, red bell peppers beat out oranges and other citrus fruits for containing the highest amount of vitamin C per serving! Just one-half cup of red bell pepper contains 96 milligrams of vitamin C, which is over 150% of the recommended daily intake (12).
In addition to reducing oxidative stress in the thyroid gland, vitamin C may also help improve abnormal T4, T3, and TSH concentrations in patients with hypothyroidism (13).
Supplements for Thyroid Health
While we want to always put food first, there is definitely a time and place for tailored supplementation. Here are a few of the big players in the natural supplements for thyroid health arena.
Ashwagandha is a powerful Ayurvedic herb that dates back thousands of years. It is an adaptogen, meaning it helps your body adapt and handle stress. One way it does this is by lowering levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in the blood, which is often inappropriately elevated with chronic stress (14). Ashwagandha may also reduce anxiety by over 56 percent (15).
Ashwagandha is one of the best natural supplements for thyroid health because of its stress lowering effects. This herb has shown to improve levels of TSH, T3, and T4 in the blood in just 8 weeks (16, 17). High levels of cortisol reduce the conversion of T4 to T3 (the active form). High levels of cortisol reduce the conversion of T4 to T3 (the active form), which makes ashwagandha an important tool for stress management.
Ashwagandha is available in powdered form, dried into a pill, fresh root, or extract. There is no one standard dosing, but many studies utilize 300 mg twice daily. Ashwagandha is thought to be safe and tolerated up to doses of 1,250 mg per day (18).
Magnesium plays a role in over 300 reactions in your body, including ones involved in thyroid health. This mineral can work with other nutrients, like iodine and selenium, to produce thyroid hormones (19).
If you use magnesium as one of your supplements for thyroid health, keep in mind the type and dosing is important. For example, avoid using magnesium oxide supplements, as these are often poorly tolerated and absorbed. If you struggle with constipation, magnesium citrate is a viable option. Otherwise, magnesium glycinate is useful and often the recommended version by functional medicine practitioners.
Low levels of vitamin D are often observed in people with autoimmune diseases. One study found that over 72% of people with autoimmune thyroid conditions were vitamin D deficient (20)! Vitamin D plays a crucial role in regulating our immune systems, so adequate levels are particularly important.
Multiple studies indicate that vitamin D supplements may reduce thyroid antibodies and promote a healthier immune response (20). If you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, we recommend talking with your doctor about monitoring your vitamin D blood levels.
Nutrition is highly personal, and thyroid conditions are no different.
There are a variety of foods for thyroid health that generally help most people. Additionally, natural supplements for thyroid health can also be beneficial in many cases. However, remember that all of our bodies are different. The way one person responds to certain foods, diet restrictions, or supplements may vary from the next person. In the 131 Method, we honor this fact, and help guide you to finding the best foods and personalized diet for you!